Doc Lehman with Benny Lester
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BENNY LESTER: UP & COMING RACER LOCKED & LOADED!
By DOC LEHMAN
Benny Lester is living his dream.
Growing up at the dirt tracks around central Ohio, the 27 year old husband and father always had a desire to strap in to a full blown dirt Late Model and see if he had the chops to compete with Ohio’s best.
Lester has achieved that goal and, especially last year, proved he has what it takes to be on top. And Lester, a humble, cordial person who is clearly a realist, is the first to admit that he needs more laps and knowledge. And of course good equipment is a must.
Benny Lester started his team with virtually nothing. And in the past few years, despite limited track time in a dirt Late Model, made his mark last season by moving forward and making his presence known.
Lester is hungry, and has the raw talent it takes to mold into a formidable racer and winner. And he’s smart enough to not live in a fantasy world with unrealistic expectations. Lester has carefully planned out what it takes to move through the ranks, gain the experience and knowledge and eventually, although it is clear that it will be sooner rather than later, rack up the wins and championships.
For all intents and purposes, 2002 will mark Lester’s fourth year racing, although in a sense it is only his second year in a Late Model.
“2002 will be our fourth calendar year I guess, but before last year we never run more than maybe a total of eight races in a year,” explained Lester, who resides in Mansfield, OH. “I don’t think we ever got out before August until last year. Maybe July. It was hit and miss, but basically last year was my first full year. In a sense, as far as full seasons, this will, I guess, be my sophomore season.”
“We’re a young team. We didn’t start out like a lot of other young guys. We don’t have Dad’s with 30 years experience behind us. We started out with nothing and it’s been a five year battle to get things we have now. But at this point in time I think we have just about as good equipment as anybody else. It’s taken awhile to get there.”
After spending most of his time in used equipment, Lester will embark on the 2002 season with an arsenal of all new ammunition, in the form of a 2002 GDI Race Car and a new C.R.E. Racing Engine.
Lester has spent his career thus far in a GDI Race Car and credits the car as well as owner and builder, Mike Giess, on helping ghim progress so swiftly.
“I don’t know where to start about Mike Giess,” Stated Lester. “For some reason he’s stuck behind us since we got going. He’s really helped us out a bunch. We didn’t know anything at the start. And we don’t a whole lot now, but everything we know we pretty much owe to Mike. Without his help we would have quit a long time ago. He gives us some deals here and there and he would do anything to help anybody. He’s a friend more than a business associate or anything like that.”
“I’ve always run one of his cars. I wouldn’t know what it’s like not to, and I don’t really plan on finding out. He does build a good car.”
“Everyone that has one of Mike’s car helps. Like Jim Gentry. He has helped us. But Mike is a super nice guy. He would give up anything he has got to help you get to the track. And that’s the way he treats other people too.”
Lester is also excited about his first all-new engine, a C.R.E. out of Jim Cushing’s shop. Cushing is a well-respected Ohio engine builder and championship racer with nearly 30 years behind the wheel of a Late Model.
“This will be our first actual professionally built motor,” offered Lester. “Jim built us a new one. He’s helped us out and he’s filling us in on what we can expect. Hopefully this will be the right way to go.”
Since starting his relatively brief career, Lester was asked if any particular night stood out so far.
“Not really, cause we haven’t won one yet!” revealed Lester. “But every night stands out. Then you spend the rest of the week thinking about what you had done and what you could have done and should have done.”
“But we ran pretty decent last year at Lakeville’s TRIPLE CROWN (SERIES) race. We got fourth. Struggled a little down there at that race. We broke a motor but we held on to it to finish. We got used to racing with broken motors. I think we changed motors six times last year.”
Lester also credits his rapid accumulation of knowledge and experience to the toughness of the drivers he has to go up against each week.
“I tell you, it doesn’t get any tougher than at Lakeville, because of the tire rule and the people there,” proclaimed Lester. “I have been to several different tracks and like at Wayne County, you’re in good shape if you have a big motor. You go down south, you run up against three or four cars that are legitimate contenders. But when you go to Lakeville if you have 20 cars in the pits, 19 of them are going to be running for you. That’s the competition we have there. They are phenomenal!”
“I like to travel to different places because you are only as good as your competition, and we always end back at Lakeville because of the competiton. They’ve got good drivers down there, like Jim Cushing, Rick (Bond), Charlie (Duncan), Dean Alexander, J.R. (Gentry) and all them. And they don’t cut you a break.”
“And me being young and not having a lot of seat time, I catch myself sometimes screwing up on the track here and there and I’m usually behind them. And these guys don’t screw up. They keep doing the same thing lap after lap.”
Lester also takes a special satisfaction in the simple fact that he is running side by side with some of his heroes from his youth.
“I grew up watching a lot of those guys and they haven’t changed a bit,” said Lester. “They were tough, they were the fastest cars when I was growing up and they are still there. And now there’s 17 or 18 other cars that are just as fast. I think the competition in this area is tougher.”
“Everybody knows when they come down to Lakeville, after they are leaving and regardless of how big their trailer is or what have you, they know they have run up against some good cars. Especially at those TRIPLE CROWN races.”
For 2002 the plans, at press time, were to chase after Lakeville Speedway’s Friday night points and take to the road on Saturday nights in search of experience, knowledge, different competition and those important laps.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll run at Lakeville on Fridays and we’re going to do, somewhat a little bit of traveling on Saturdays this year,” stated Lester. “Head down south maybe, a little east, a little west. Just go wherever we can go. But that’s the plan right now. Of course, that could change in a hurry. But we do plan on being down there (Lakeville) on Fridays.”
Saturday nights might find the Lester Racing Team pulling into the pits just about anywhere.
“We’re going to go over to Wayne County a couple times at the beginning of the year and see what we can do over there,” explained Lester. “We have a new motor that we think will run good over there. If it doesn’t then we’ll go to the smaller tracks down south, like Midway and places like that. And then go from there. Wherever the road takes us on Saturdays. The road and the budget.”
“Hopefully we’ll have good luck this year. We’ve had our share of bad luck. Of course, we’ve caused a lot of it. We’re not blaming anyone but ourselves with most of it. I think you make or break your own luck.”
Lester’s 2002 GDI Race Car #25 will carry sponsorship support from Bear Racing, GDI Race Cars, GDI Signs, Midwest Mechanical Power, Bearing Distributors, Inc., Lester’s Auto Body and Diamond Car Wash.
Lester’s crew consists of his wife, Lisa, brothers Jason & Mike, and his father & mother-in-law, Bill & Muncie Baer.
Benny & Lisa Lester have an eight year old son, Christopher.
Lester is also quick to give credit to his family, and has particular gratefulness for the support, encouragement and enthusiasm he gets from his wife, Lisa. Mrs. Lester is, without a doubt, a very important part of Lester Racing.
“I would say she means everything,” stated Lester with no hesitation. “I would not do it without her. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to do anything without her. She’s my crew, my crew chief. We do everything together with the family.”
“She’s probably the only woman you’ll see in the pits swinging tires here and there and putting them on the car and changing the car setup and the whole nine yards. The woman is great. She goes to work everyday so we can race. If we didn’t race, she wouldn’t have to work. She gets up every morning and goes just so we can make it to the track.”
Lester also enjoys the support of his son.
“He loves the racecar, but, being only eight year sold, if it doesn’t resemble a football or something to that effect, it’s just there,” offered Lester with a chuckle. “But every Friday and Saturday he is there rooting us on.
Lester is also quick to give credit to his crew and team.
“The actual working crew is my wife, Lisa,” said Lester. “And my brother Jason, who just does everything for me. I don’t pay him a dime (laughs). But he is there every night with us. And my brother, Michael.”
“And just this year my father-in-law has really kicked in. His name is Bill (Bear) and his wife, Muncie, have taken us to a whole new level. They’ve chipped in this year. Above and beyond the garage they have pretty much bought everything this year.”
“They got into it real heavy last year and they saw us going forward and I don’t know why but they decided to jump in and it’s been the biggest help so far.”
As we closed out our conversation, I asked Lester what would constitute a good season for him.
“In order to have a good season, it’s just to get more consistent,” commented Lester. “If we can be consistent, I think we have a top five car. If we can be in the top five consistent, for the most part, it would be a good year.”
And then Benny Lester makes a statement that proves he is all racer:
“We want what we haven’t had, and that’s a win!”
Don’t be surprised to see that first win, and more, come this year.
He’s going to be a good one!
©2002 DOC LEHMAN/Dirt America!